Got Pupusa?

It was Thursday and time for the second of the Patio Sessions down at Sammons Park in front of the Winspear Opera House. Last week I took a lot of photographs (here, here, and here) and didn’t feel like doing that again. Viewing life through a viewfinder is not the best way to see things.

I did take my camera, just in case, but I loaded my Kindle, Moleskine, and selected a vacuum filler Parker “51” with a fine nib and Parker Quink black ink (my best note-taking combination – the “51” has an amazingly smooth fine nib, perfect for the Moleskine) and decided ahead of time I’d get something to eat from a food truck, commandeer a table, and relax – read and write a little.

I left work and caught the DART train downtown from the station near my office. The weather was cloudy and windy, but overall not too bad for Texas. I was happy when I saw they had a food truck that, not only had I never eaten at before – but it was also one I had wanted to check out. I was glad I at least brought my camera… have to get photos of food trucks.

It was Dos Paisano’s - a fairly new truck that promised Salvadorian fare. I’m a big fan because it is food that is similar to what I ate in High School in Nicaragua (I love banana-wrapped tamals)… plus pupusas.

Jacob Metcalf opened with a mellow acoustic set. The sound system is such that the music can be heard clearly from anywhere under the massive Winspear sunscreen so I went ahead and bought a pupusa plate and a bottle of water and settled down on a table, listening to the music and reading, just as I had planned. The food was very good. Now I need to track that truck down and try their plantains, yucca, and tamals.

The second musical act was The O’s – a neo-country duo singing upbeat folksy music using a banjo, a slide guitar, a foot pounded bass drum, and a bit of a goofy-corny sense of humor. I enjoyed them a lot though they had to deal with the pealing church bells, just like last week.

The crowd was quite a bit bigger than last week and the concert was sort of impaired by a large group of little kids that kept running around the reflecting pool, yelling and splashing. I know I shouldn’t complain – my kids were as big a pain as anyone’s – but I know how it works. To a parent there is nothing as attractive as their own children and nothing as amusing as their antics. You could see the proud mothers and fathers smiling broadly at the edges of the reflecting pool, out for an evening with their blankets, plastic wine glasses, and massive strollers. What is tough to do is to constantly remind yourself that not everybody thinks the way you do – as a matter of fact, nobody else thinks your kids are cute. You’re the only ones.

The Patio Sessions are not too long, at seven thirty everything was over. I gathered up my stuff and caught the train back home.

I have been working through this huge ebook of noir short stories, The Best American Noir of the Century. I kept reading on the train, coursing through a fascinating bit of fiction by Harlan Ellison called Mefisto in Onyx. Even with Ellison’s occasional overwrought chunk of prose here and there it’s a crackerjack story and sucked me in enough to have me look up and realize I had gone a stop too far. I had to get off the train and wait for another southbound to get me back to where my car was. I don’t like waiting around on a dark train station platform that I’m not familiar with… but there was some illumination from a streetlight and at least I was able to finish the harrowing story.

And it was very good.

The Dos Paisano's Salvadorian/Mexican fusion food truck. Look for it in your neighborhood.

Got Pupusa?

Ordering food from the Dos Paisano's Truck.

My pupusa order with a lot of red and (spicy) green sauce.

Also in the photo is my Kindle and its custom made case.

The top half of the Dos Paisano's Menu.

The bottom half of the menu. I'm going to have to go back.

I like that this song mentions Tietze Park - a Dallas sort of place. My bus drove by there on the way to work for years. I would look for its signature bent over tree  (I think it’s a “kneeling” bois d’ arc )every day. It was voted the best place to break up in the city. There’s even a song about it  by the band Elkhart- video performed at the Belmont, of course.

The amazing view of Downtown Dallas from the Belmont.

Pen or Bike?

I have a difficult choice to make. Pen, or Bicycle.

Last December, when people asked me what I wanted for Christmas, instead of the usual hemming and hawing and “Oh, I don’t need anything,” I answered directly and succinctly, “I want cash.”

You see, when I thought about what I wanted – it was too expensive for any one person to buy for me. I wanted a pen.

I’ve been collecting/addicted/messing around with fountain pens for a few years now. I am not a serious collector – I am what is known as a “user.” I am interested in actually writing with the things – getting ink on my fingers – which is odd, because I have the world’s worst handwriting – but it is what it is. I am not interested in glass trays of pristine pens in perfect shape and rare colors.

That is a good thing – because I can buy pens with small flaws (like scratches or engraved names) that do not affect the use of the pens, but lower the price. It is also good because it eventually came to limit the number of fountain pens I would buy. I can only use one at a time and once I have explored the gamut and found the pens I liked to use I could pretty much stop buying them.

That’s more or less where I am now. I have a goodly number of pens in my rotation, I know what I like, and I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to buy any more, really.

Except for one. There is what is called a “grail pen.”

I want a Pen for Men.

I have big hands and am always attracted to large pens – they simply fit in my hand better. I like the Sheaffer inlaid nibs. I like the snorkel filling system – the most complicated fountain pen. Put all of these together and you have the Sheaffer Pen for Men, or PFM. Sheaffer came out with the PFM in 1959, right at the end of the line for the classic fountain pen. The ballpoint was gaining ground fast and fountain pens would soon be known as an anachronism, a collectable, or simply an overpriced sign of affluence.

The PFM was an oversized version of the classic snorkel filling line (I have several older snorkels already – I do like the triumph nib style on these) and is highly desirable today – but was not very successful when it came out (few were made, that is one reason they are so dear now). They were only produced in volume for four years or so and all production ceased in ten.

So, in short, I want one. I figure I can get a nice, user grade PFM for a little over two hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money to spend on a pen. Too much money – but I so rarely desire material possessions, that when I do, it feels a little overwhelming. So I started saving up money until I had enough to pay for a PFM.

While I was saving up, I began to have second thoughts. I began to think that I was about to waste my money. At the same time, I noticed some internet ads for folding bicycles.

I have two bikes – both over twenty years old (a Raleigh Technium road bike and a beater mountain bike I bought at a pawn shop for ninety bucks) – though they are workable. The worst thing about my bicycles is the engine, of course: old, worn out, and not very taken care of. A goal I have for myself is to ride my bike more this year – see if I can get in better shape and see some countryside/urbanside while I’m at it.

So, the idea formed in my head – save some more money (maybe around four hundred) and buy a folding bike. I have the idea of keeping it in my car trunk and going for little rides here and there – on the way home from work, on the way to various spots, or on out of town trips. There are tons of bikes out there and I began to look… I’m thinking about a single speed model (less expensive, I live in a flat place, more reliable, and good exercise) – maybe a Dahon Speed Uno or a Dahon Boardwalk. I don’t need a high-end bike – this is for light use and short, flat distances.

So, what’s it going to be…. A bike or a pen. If I get a bike, is a folder a good idea? If I get a folder, what inexpensive model is the best idea? Candy suggested I buy the pen, then start saving for the bike. I’m not sure if I’m going to live that long. The bike would be a smarter decision – I can use it as a goal, a motivating factor.

The pen would be pure luxury. Then again, the pen would be pure luxury.

Decisions… Decisions.

Any advice?

Pen

Or Bike?

Fake

You all know (or should know) that I have a weakness for and love of fountain pens. I am primarily a “user” rather than a “collector” – but still appreciate an aged and well-done writing instrument, as long as it has a nib.

I was looking at Amazon.com for some stuff and, off in the corner, I saw an ad that caught my eye. Usually I ignore web ads, but this one seemed aimed right at me.

It looked like The Parker Pen company, the venerable company that over the years has produced such legendary and wonderful fountain pens such as the Vacumatic and the Parker “51” has come up with a new pen – maybe some sort of advanced nib, or a revolutionary filling system. I was stoked.

So I clicked through the ad to the Parker Ingenuity, one of their “5th ink technology” pens. Something didn’t quite look right. So I did some digging and research and it didn’t take long for me to figure it out.

This wasn’t a fountain pen at all. It’s like a felt pen, with a metal hood stamped around it to make it look like a fountain pen.The actual writing surface is replaced with a new refill. It even has non-functional ribs to look like the ridges on a fountain pen feed. A typical model costs a little bit under two hundred dollars. It is obviously aimed at people that want to look like they carry a fountain pen – they want the cachet – but that don’t want inky fingers.

I know that you are going to get ink on your hands or worse when you carry a fountain pen. A pen with a nib is considered a “controlled leak” and I’ve learned to wipe off the pen and clean the inside of the cap when a pen has been lugged around where it can get a shock and shake ink out into the cap. Flying is a real problem – the reduced air pressure can cause a pen to spew ink (I carry an empty pen, an airtight case, and extra cartridges).

So I fully understand someone that wants to carry, for example, a rollerball – sometimes I think of it myself – though I say no… it seems unclean somehow. What bugs me is that they make it look like a fountain pen. A triangle with a slit in it is not a nib – a good nib is a wonderful piece of design, engineering, and manufacture. It is a delicate mechanism of steel, gold, and iridium designed to deliver a carefully controlled stream of ink in a smooth flow to a piece of paper.

A felt pen is useful and deserving of its existence – but don’t try to hide it behind a stamped piece of sheetmetal.

Oh, one other point – I am not a fan of pens that have metal sections – the part right in back of the nib, the place where your fingers grip. I don’t like the feel of cold chrome. Warm plastic, rubber, or ebonite is a better writing grip.

Now that I’ve ranted a bit… if anyone actually wanted to buy me one of those… well, that would be different.

It would be a gift.

The Idea Pomodoro

For a while now I have been working on using the Pomodoro Technique to improve the amount of work I can get done in a period of time, help control stress, and reduce procrastination.

The basic idea of the Pomodoro Technique is to break a workday up into set units of time using a simple kitchen timer or equivalent:

1. Choose a task to be accomplished

2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)

3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper

4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)

5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

The real benefit of the technique comes when you get in the habit of examining the Pomodoros and see what you were able to accomplish. You can set up a feedback loop where you see what you are getting done, improve your implementation of the technique, apply the improvement, and then see how it works.

I have a way to go before I am a master of the technique. The most vexing difficulty is managing interruptions. But I’ll keep experimenting and plugging away.

What I want to talk about today is the idea of a Specialty Pomodoro. This is a Pomodoro sized and timed chunk of time… 25 minutes, that are set up and used for a specific purpose, rather than simply trying to peel stuff of off the daily todo list.

There might, for example, be a Brainstorm Pomodoro, where a problem has presented itself and you sit there for one Pomodoro and pump out and write down as many possible or harebrained solutions as you can, with no self-editing until the timer has dinged. There might be a Writing Pomodoro – obviously used to pump out text. Or maybe a Plot Point Pomodoro where possible plot points are generated, or a Character Pomodoro… or a Character Name Pomodoro, or a Setting Pomodoro – the list can grow very quickly.

I have come up with a concept of what I call an Idea Pomodoro – which is where I sit down with a Staples Bagasse Composition Book, start the timer going, and simply write down what I want to do, as quickly and with as little thought as possible, until I get the ding.

The purpose of this is to clear my head. There is that feeling of too many ideas bouncing around, too many plans, too little time. This helps clear everything out so I can get back to work. Once an idea is in the book, it is safe, I won’t lose it, it won’t float off to be stolen and used by somebody else. Of course, I have always carried 3×5 cards or a notebook to record sudden ideas, and that’s a good thing (they can be transferred into the Pomodoro) but I found it wasn’t enough. Doing this for a full, intense, Pomodoro feels like a spring cleaning in my brain.

Pomodoro

An Idea Pomodoro - timer, pen, composition book.

My Pomodoro timer is a metal kitchen timer – it feels more substantial and accurate that the tomoto-shaped ones so many people use. I do recommend using the physical timer rather than a computer program – the ticking of the timer seems important and having a real object in the place of a string of bits adds a certain gravitas. The paper in the composition book is thin and you can see the ink on the back side through the paper. Sometimes I use both sides, sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t seem to be important one way or the other. That’s a Pilot Prera fountain pen in the picture.

I like to use the composition book instead of a lined form because I can keep going as long as I need, keeping the limit being time, rather than space. I do find that I can easily fill four or five pages of stuff. Also, I can keep my “book of ideas” with me – all in one place, so I can look at them later and evaluate, act, or discard as need be.

I do use a little code for a hierarchy. Big, top-level ideas are marked with a tick “-“. Smaller, sub-ideas under the big one are marked with an “o”. If I have to go to a third level, I use a hand-drawn asterisk… which doesn’t happen very often.

Later, after my five-minute break or even days later, I can look over the ideas and start building projects or to-do lists. Of course, a lot of the ideas are too ambitious, or too much work, or just plain stupid – and have to be discarded. But that’s cool; I have written it down and can come back to it in the future if the situation changes.

How often do I do an Idea Pomodoro? As often as I need to. It is a spring cleaning of my brain so I do one whenever things begin to feel cluttered. When I find myself jumping from idea to idea and having trouble settling down I know it’s time to carve out the half-hour (including the five minute break) and dump the excess brain dust bunnies out onto a piece of paper.

Does this seem anal – too much work, too much navel gazing? Much ado about nothing? It really isn’t. Once you’ve set everything up it works smoothly and without very much attention. You do get like Pavlov’s dog – the ticking of the timer becomes associated with doing the work.

Speaking of which… there’s the ding. Time for me to take a little break.

Talk to ya later.